GOP amplifies the crime message in the latter stages of halftime

NEW YORK – Graphic surveillance video shows a man on a sidewalk suddenly hitting someone on the head, throwing them to the ground.

With muffled screams and gunfire in the background, the video stitches together other surveillance clips of shootings and beatings on streets and subways, while an voiceover says, “You’re watching actual violent crimes caught on camera in Kathy Hochul’s New York.”

That is not completly correct.

The ad by Rep. Lee Zeldinthe Republican who challenges the New York governor. Kathy Hochul next month’s election included video of an attack in California. Some of the footage showed crimes that took place before Hochul took office last year. While acknowledging a flaw in Zeldin’s campaign, she defended the ad and said the message was clear: violent crime is out of control.

That’s a theme that GOP candidates in the US have echoed in the last month of criticism midterm elections. The crime issue dominates advertising in some of the most competitive Senate elections, including those in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Nevada, along with numerous campaigns by Houses of Representatives and Governors such as that in New York.

The rhetoric is sometimes alarmist or of questionable credibility, and strongly reminiscent of the former President’s language donald trump, who refined a late-stage argument during the 2020 campaign that Democrat-run cities were out of control. That didn’t help Trump avoid defeat, but experts say Democrats would be wrong to ignore the clout of the attacks.

“When violence increases, people are concerned, and then we tend to see it gain traction as a political issue,” said Lisa L. Miller, a professor of political science at Rutgers University who specializes in crime as a political issue Theme focused in countries around the world.

The FBI this week released annual data showing violent crime rates not increased significantly last year, although they remained above pre-pandemic levels. The report paints an incomplete picture, in part because it doesn’t include some of the country’s largest police departments.

In general, rates of violent crime and homicide in the US have increased since the pandemic, peaking from historic lows in some places. Nonviolent crime fell during the pandemic, but the homicide rate rose nearly 30% in 2020, rising in cities and rural areas alike, according to an analysis of crime data by the Brennan Center for Justice. According to the analysis, the rate of assaults increased by 10%.

The rise defies a simple explanation. Experts have pointed to a range of possible causes, from worries about the economy and historically high inflation rates to severe stress and the pandemic that has killed more than 1 million people in the US

There’s a history of candidates relying on racist tropes when warning of rising crime rates. During the 1988 presidential campaign, supporters of George HW Bush ran the so-called Willie Horton ad, which has become one of the most prominent examples of racial hatred in politics.

In this year’s election, Republicans often blame crime on later passed criminal justice reforms Murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department, including changes to bail laws that critics have long claimed have disproportionately impacted communities of color, as well as allegations that Democrats have failed to adequately support law enforcement.

Some GOP candidates try to assert themselves in communities of color. Zeldin, for example, has delivered his anti-crime message while speaking in buildings and bodegas in various New York boroughs.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Senate nominee, cardiac surgeon and television host Dr. Mehmet Oz, has toured the state holding forums on “safe roads” in black communities.

When asked by a reporter about his focus on crime, Oz referred to a conversation he had with leaders of Philadelphia’s black Republican community that turned from economic issues to struggling black-owned businesses.

“The African Americans in the group said, ‘Well, the deep problem is … people don’t feel safe,'” Oz said in an interview.

Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democratic lawmaker from Philadelphia, said Oz uses crime victims to get votes but opposes moves like restricting the availability of firearms that would reduce gun violence.

“Oz doesn’t live in a community that struggles with this type of crime and no one, no one believes that he actually cares and would actively promote policy solutions that would help address this problem,” Kenyatta said.

Despite the GOP’s messages, it’s not clear that crime is a top priority for voters.

In an AP-NORC poll conducted in June, which allowed US adults to name up to five issues they think the government should most importantly work on over the next year, 11% named crime or violence, unchanged since December and well below the percentage naming many of the other top issues for Americans. A September Fox News poll asking people to name an issue that motivates them to vote this year found only 1% named crime, although most said they were very concerned about crime when asked directly.

Still, Democrats are responding to Republican efforts to portray them as criminally soft.

Hochul announced support for several law enforcement unions in recent days and ran her own ad with a public safety message titled “Focused on” to remind voters that she has tightened the state’s gun laws.

During a debate last week in Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis responded to Republican opponent Heidi Ganahl, who has repeatedly portrayed him as pro-crime, by suggesting that her tax cut plan would “disappoint the police” by reducing budgets for Prisons and police would be cut.

Ganahl denied this, calling himself a “law-and-order girl” and blaming Polis for rising crime rates.

In Oregon, the Republican gubernatorial nominee is making crime a hot topic in a three-person race in which an independent candidate who is a former Democratic legislator could snag enough votes from the Democratic nominee to help the GOP win the top office in one to win blue state.

Democrat Tina Kotek has joined her opponents in promising to increase police funding, but has also backed tougher gun laws as part of a plan to fight crime.

That approach is being taken by gun control group Everytown for the Gun Safety Victory Fund, which is spending a combined $2.4 million on ads in Wisconsin and Georgia to convince voters that Republicans who don’t support tougher gun laws are actually the ones are that are “gentle” on crime.

“We can reset that narrative and neutralize what I would call the GOP’s artificial advantage in this matter,” said Charlie Kelly, a senior policy adviser to Everytown.

In some states, candidates are sounding the alarm about crime rates that remain relatively low or have even fallen.

Governor of Connecticut Ned Lamonta Democrat, said in a recent debate while running for re-election that the state’s crime rate is going down “despite some fear-mongering you’re hearing.”

State data shows that Connecticut’s violent crime rate fell 9% in 2021 from 2020, as Lamont pointed out in a recent debate with his Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski, who has made “runaway” crime a central part of his campaign.

Asked how he can keep arguing that crime is rising when the numbers tell a different story, Stefanowski said people were afraid of the rising crime rate, but he denied fueling those fears.

“If we didn’t emphasize that, we wouldn’t be doing our job. I can tell you when we’re out there, people get scared. I’m not trying to scare them,” he said. “They come to me scared and say, ‘What are you going to do about it?'”


Bedayn reported from Denver, Colorado. Associated Press writers Sara Burnett in Chicago, Gabe Stern in Reno, Nevada, Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. GOP amplifies the crime message in the latter stages of halftime

Sarah Y. Kim

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